International students in some non-thesis masters’ programs will see their tuition rate jump by 30 per cent, compared to a 3.1 per cent tuition increase for students in other programs relative to the 2019-2020 school year. The increase comes after the Quebec government announced a policy in May 2018 that allowed public universities to deregulate international tuition rates, meaning that McGill was able to set its own tuition rates without legislative oversight. The policy came into effect in Fall 2019.
Although the increased tuition will help McGill run programs and research, the rise in tuition for some programs was thought to be drastic by many. Michael Overton, a master’s student in the Sound Recording program, expected to pay approximately $11,100 in Fall 2020 tuition fees. When his tuition increased by more than 28 per cent to over $14,300, Overton was alarmed.
“It makes me feel as though international students are simply seen as a revenue stream instead of people that come from different economic situations,” Overton said.
For many students, this increase came as a surprise. Connie Shen, Financial Affairs Officer of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS), believes that many students were not given enough notice to financially plan for the tuition fee spikes.
“Many students did not anticipate such a large increase, and therefore did not get the chance to budget and plan accordingly,” Shen said. “Some students were not even aware of this increase until it appeared on their bill in August.”
Given that the COVID-19 pandemic has already exacerbated the financial strain for many students, the massive increase added unnecessary stress for many of Shen’s classmates who were expected to pay their bills by Aug. 25. Shen would have preferred if McGill had implemented the increase gradually and communicated the changes more clearly.
“The timing of this increase is very unfortunate,” Shen said. “There will be many students who will be unable to pay increased tuition due to the pandemic. There are many students who relied on income from part-time work in order to pay tuition. Many graduate students also have dependents, and the added pressure of caring for children during the pandemic has made it difficult for student-parents to work as they normally would.”
Although not all students experienced a tuition increase as drastic as 30 per cent, all 2020-2021 tuition rates increased by 3.1 per cent compared to last year. International student Ahmad Hendie, U1 Engineering, is concerned that these increases may force students who are already struggling to pay tuition to study at another university.
“McGill needs to expand its financial aid offerings for returning [international students] in need,” Hendie said. “As [even] the annual three to four per cent fee increases might squeeze out internationals who are stretching to afford McGill.”
However, Hendi also acknowledged that the tuition increase will help McGill stay competitive among other top-tier universities in Canada.
“Funding, of which a large [percentage] comes from international tuition, is vital for [McGill’s] rankings as it highly affects research output.”
McGill Media Relations Officer Frédérique Mazerolle explained that the increase in tuition would help to fund academic programs and services.
“This policy change will allow McGill to retain tuition paid by international undergraduate students to support academic programs, services, and financial assistance delivered to McGill students,” Mazerolle wrote to the Tribune.
The Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS) society will be helping the affected students, such as those in Overton’s program, to offset the increased costs. In addition, McGill’s administration noted the creation of certain programs to help students pay for their elevated tuition rates, such as a “line of credit” for students in critical need. The administration also offers the McGill Student Emergency Support Fund, which serves to assist students affected financially by the COVID-19 crisis. While these programs can potentially help international students afford attending McGill, the tuition increase continues to burden many.